An excerpt from DEBT’S HONOR

Debt's Honor CoverHere is an exclusive, available nowhere else excerpt from my new novel, DEBT’S HONOR:

Jefferson Odett would have been fine if he’d just kept going, but he had to stop when he heard the voice of a dead man.

The shuttle settled down on a featureless plain on a dirty ball of a planet that was their rallying point before the troops were sent again to engage the enemy. A light drizzle from the perpetually overhanging clouds turned the ground into a sloppy mud pit and Odett’s boots squelched in and out of it with every step. His mood was already grim and this weather improved nothing.

He spied a part of the field that looked a little more passable. The mud was broken up by large rocks. He was making towards it when his communicator chimed. Updates. Orders. He didn’t bother opening the message. There would be plenty of time for that once he was warm and dry.

The first of the temporary shelters came into view. They were pre-fab constructs that had the benefit of being a barrier against the elements and little else. There were groups of them arranged to some order by various commanders. Individually the arrangement must have made some sort of sense but to Odett’s eye it was just a jumble of small huts surrounded by miserable figures wearing rain gear and looking as grim as Odett felt.

His own men were some yards away yet. He could not tell where. There was a map on his communicator but Odett did not want to look at it right now. He wanted to concentrate on his footing. He trusted he would stumble upon his men sooner or later or they would stumble upon him. They were bound to be keeping an eye out for him.

As he leaped from one rocky outcrop to another, trying to avoid a muddy patch in between, Odett heard the voice that made him stop. It belonged to a man he thought had been dead for over two years.

“I saw the bladeships with my own eyes…” the voice was saying. “I saw it carve up the transport like it was nothing! I barely escaped with my life!”

Odett looked in the direction the voice had come from. A group of soldiers were gathered round to hear the tale the voice spouted. They were an Earthborn division. Odett could tell by their uniforms and their gear, which was new and up to date and hardly used. He pushed his way through the group of soldiers, garnering stern looks as he did so, but he didn’t care. He had to know.

There he was, surrounded by a group of admiring Earthborn soldiers, looking clean and scrubbed as if he hadn’t had to lift a finger for anything.

Winters.

Odett could see he was a captain now. Unlike Odett, he likely hadn’t earned the title. He’d probably purchased it with the prize money he’d been awarded for the capture of Albert Carlysle, a wanted prisoner that Odett had, in actuality, recognized and captured – a prisoner who had saved his life aboard the Emperor Malthius.

That was the last time Odett had seen Winters aboard that damned ship. Odett had assumed Winters died with all the other soldiers.

But here he was, telling his tale to a rapt audience.

“The thing… the Kreoch ship… just clamps on to the unsuspecting ship. The Kreoch warship is like a great knife that cuts into the ship, ripping it apart.”

Odett sighed inwardly. Everyone knew that now. When he’d told the admiralty about it after he’d made it back to Earth they had a hard time believing his incredible story. Since then there had been documented proof of the existence of the Kreoch bladeships, and the unimaginable damage they cause to hapless vessels unfortunate enough to encounter them.

“How many Kreoch did you kill?” a voice asked.

Winters shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. It was all a blur and I didn’t keep count.

“Hard to kill Kreoch when you’re cowering in a lifepod,” a voice countered.

Odett was somewhat surprised to realize that the voice was his own. He’d thought it and said it aloud without meaning to.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

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Generating Copy

 

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I work at a newspaper. I do graphics and occasionally write advertising copy, but I work alongside the reporters. There have been directives that come down from the head office of the chain’s digital department. The directives never talk about writing or reporting. They talk about “generating copy”.

Personally I can’t think of a more insulting term than “generating copy”. That cold, clinical phrase completely guts what it is that reporters actually do. It eviscerates the process of writing in any form. The process of creating, of digging into your soul for a few measly crumbs of insight and then weaving that insight, feeling, or even just information into words — the right words — that create a cohesive passage that speaks to the reader in ways that not only make sense and impart information but touches something inside of them…

To label that as merely “generating copy” is the act of a soulless cretin. It’s a phrase that comes from someone who has never seen anything of the wonder or the beauty of the world. It is a phrase uttered by a lifeless, heartless, soulless zombie stuffed into a suit. It is the most insulting kind of corporatespeak and the more I think about it the angrier I become.

The problem is, I have been listening to these bums. They talk about how anyone who wants to get “traction” out of their blogs have to follow the steps on the ladder to increase traffic to your site and post pieces that generate “swagger”.

I’ve been listening to them, trying to do just that because I think that I need to chase some mythical ideal audience in order to “move more units” (i.e: sell books)

I am unable to do that and up until now it’s been getting me down. It wasn’t until I thought about the phrase “generating copy” that I realized what a load of cow dung it all is.

I’m a writer. I write because I am compelled to order my chaotic thoughts, to try to make sense of the jumble of random noise that fires off inside my head. I am moved to give voice in some way to the painful yearning that occasionally grips my soul. I am compelled to reach out to try to communicate my inner turmoil to somebody… anybody… or maybe just out into the void. It doesn’t matter.

I write because I have to. I write because I have no other way to say what it is I need to say. I’m not trying to drive traffic or create “swagger” and I am not just “generating copy”

This is me. This is my mind and my spirit running free and playing, leaving footprints in the sand in the form of these words. The cold and unemotional format of electronic words on an LCD field of blue-white is all that is afforded to me, but while I can I will try to breathe a bit of life into it now and then.

Anything else is just generating copy.

Dark Worlds Magazine

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Fellow AMAZING STORIES blogger and fellow Canadian R. Graeme Cameron recently published the first issue of a science fiction magazine called Polar Borealis. I congratulate R. Graeme on his achievement. It is certainly not easy to publish a magazine today and doing it the way R. Graeme is doing it, paying contributors up front and making the magazine available for free, is not for the faint of heart. That kind of endeavour requires a lot of faith.

I know this because of my experience with Dark Worlds Magazine.

Dark Worlds Magazine was an effort to recapture the excitement of the old days of the pulp magazines. Magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction and Weird Tales. It was also an experiement in producing a magazine in the new print-on-demand marketplace.

Ultimately it was an experiment that failed.

DarkWorlds1Myself and former Amazing Stories blogger G. W. Thomas launched the first issue back in 2008. If the cover was to be believed it was a SPECTACULAR FIRST ISSUE! Indeed, the first issue featured a lot of very talented writers and artists. C. J. Burch contributed a fantastic feature story. We also had stories from Joel Jenkins, David Bain, Robert Burke Richardson, J. F. Gonzalez and Brett Tallman. It featured illustrations by myself and G. W. Thomas as well as Samuel DeGraff and Aaron Sidell.

I was art director and sole production department. I was obsessive about the form that the magazine took. I wanted it to look so much like the old pulp magazines as to be indistinguishable from them.

That worked to our advantage in our print editions but was a considerable detriment to the electronic editions which, at first, was only the .pdf file used for the print edition. Because I stubbornly stuck to the two-column text layout favored by the pulp magazines, the pdf’s were a challenge to read on most devices at the time.

DW3Later e-editions featured the text only with no attempt at formatting and no illustrations. I did not pay much heed to these editions, considering that they paled in comparison to the print edition layout. I have since learned what a mistake that was. The e-book has become a much more desired format among readers. All the fancy typesetting and layout that goes into a print edition is lost in that format. But to disregard it as unimportant is certainly not a wise move.

A second issue followed in 2008 with stories by Joshua Reynolds, David A. Hardy and Jack Mackenzie among others. In 2009 the magazine published a story by writer Michael Ehart, The Tomb of the Amazon Queen which was nominated for a Harper’s Pen award.

In 2010 and again in 2011 the magazine itself was nominated for a Pulp Ark Award for Best Pulp Magazine.

DW5_CoverAfter issue four I decided to change the format. For our first four issues we published as a standard trade paperback size, that is; 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall. That is the format that most print-on-demand books prefer. But I was still obsessed with reproducing the old pulp magazines as closely as possible. With issue number 5 we switched to a Crown Quarto format which is slightly larger than a trade paperback at 7 ½ inches by 10 inches, a size which I felt better approximated the old pulp sizes. At this point we had switched from doing everything in Microsoft Word to laying out in Adobe InDesign. This allowed me a lot more freedom to be creative with the layout. Unfortunately I was still stubbornly holding on to the two-column format for the text, which made for a fantastic print layout but was a challenge for those who preferred the e-editions.

With the new layout production began to require more time and our output slowed. Sales slowed as well, as they had steadily since the first issue. We were constantly hopeful that they would pick up but, alas, they never did. With our 6th issue the writing was on the wall and Dark Worlds Magazine folded.

dark-worlds-6_cover_frontonly1We did learn some lessons along the way. One was that a magazine needs to have a bit of a focus. I think that Dark Worlds was a bit too inclusive. Were were fans of all genres of pulp from the weird tales, to sword and sorcery, to science fiction and to western. I think our subject matter was too wide to appeal to readers in such a niche market. A magazine tends to do better if it has a narrower focus, a specific kind of story that a specific type of reader would enjoy. Dark Worlds tried to be too many things at once.

The biggest lesson, however, was not to ignore the e-book market. Print-on-demand was too pricey a proposition to compete with mass market printing (and even that is too pricey an option for many publishers these days). Catering to e-readers would probably have gone a long way towards selling more copies.

I hope that R. Graeme has found a better way with Polar Borealis. I wish him every success in a very challenging marketplace.

And, if anyone is interested, the final issues of Dark Worlds Magazine are still available here and here, but it won’t be for much longer. Check them out if you are so inclined.

On Fuel Pumps and Being a Manly Man

There are certain things that men are just supposed to know… things that I simply don’t.

At least that’s how it feels, especially if one lives in a rural area like I do. There are a lot of men about who know an awful lot about cars and how to fix them.

I am not a guy like that. I can fix your computer. I can swap out a hard drive, I can figure out why your e-mail isn’t working. I can help you convert your photos to jpegs so that you can send them to your Aunt Iris in Melbourne.

But I can’t tell you anything about a fuel pump except that it makes it very difficult to make your car go if it’s not working properly. The mechanic will tell you “Just hit it a couple a’ times with a wrench while you’re starting the car. That’ll help.” Which sound good except that I couldn’t tell you where it was in order to hit it with a wrench, providing I was able to dig one out of the little cardboard box where I keep my tools.

Okay, I might be in danger of loosing my “man” card with this post, but let me just say that I have successfully replaced a kitchen faucet and unblocked a drain with a snake. I have replaced the bulbs in headlights and tail lights and I can jump start your car if you need a boost.

I’m a smart man. But hanging out with a couple of mechanically inclined men can make a guy like me feel like a special kind of stupid. My wife’s friend’s boyfriend Jim and her son Thomas are great guys, though. They walked me through where the fuel pump is, showed me how to tap it with a hammer just right. They also told me that I wouldn’t have to drop the gas tank in order to get it out. Then they told me some funny stories about guys who dropped the gas tank and didn’t disconnect the ground wire first. “‘Course the tank’s still got fuel in it which makes it heavy. You unhook it, it drops and your ground wire’s done.” they laughed.

Heh. Yeah. Good thing I don’t have to do that.

The moral of this story is that I only have to pay about $100 for a new fuel pump and swapping it out will be easy. Easy for Jim and Thomas, that is. Not so much for non-mechanical Jack here. I can write you an exciting story about a guy who needs a new fuel pump but I’m afraid when it comes to actually installing the new one I’m not much help.

Unfortunately replacing the pump will have to go on hold for about a week. I have a daughter who is getting married and we’re going to be busy maxing out our credit cards for the next week. We needed to rent a car for that anyway so the old Chrysler’s going to sit, sad and forlorn until we can get around to it.

So, if you’re on Amazon and you’re looking for something to read, please think about old non-mechanical Jack and buy one of his books or stories for your kindle. It won’t cost you more than $5 and it will help me out immensely when I am stony broke next week and unable to drive anywhere.

You can just click on any of the titles that look interesting to the right of this post, or visit my amazon.com page and make your selection. Science fiction or fantasy, if you like ’em, I got ’em. It’s a win-win. You get an exciting book to read on your Kindle and I get to keep driving around and putting food on the table.

Coming Soon: Time Like Broken Glass

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“In a world of magic one city is the focal point for a desperate struggle that is fought through all of time.

Mages harness the powers of different elements – air, fire, ice, metal, even death – and wield that power in their struggle to survive. But one powerful mage can cantrol time itself. Now mages and mortals alike find themselves allied against that power and three heroes, separated by vast gulfs of time, must find a way to save the magic, the great city and existence itself.”

This is my first fantasy novel and it will be released in the next couple of days from RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Look for a longer post about the book and about the universe in which it is set: Magistria!

DEBT’S PLEDGE and the Bechdel Test

134BechdelTest

So, my daughter came home for Christmas, which is enough of a Christmas present for her mother and I. While on the Greyhound she passed the time reading a trade paperback edition of my book, Debt’s Pledge. When she pulled the book out of her backpack she told me she was only three quarters of the way through. I asked her what she thought about it.

“Well, first thing; your book would not pass the Bechdel Test”, she said.

For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel Test (sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule) is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that what she had told me was very true. There are several women characters in the book, and most of them are strong characters. Some are more feminine than others but none are shrinking violets. However, the book’s main character is Jefferson Odett and the entire book is told from his point of view. It’s not told in the first person, but the third person narrative is deliberately limited to Odett’s point of view. That makes it kind of difficult to pass the Bechdel Rule.

I admitted as much to my daughter.

“Also,” she continued. “Why do all the women characters all have to have some sort of relationship with Odett? It’s like they’re all there just as sex objects for him”

“Wait,” I said, trying to think. I’m writing the sequel but the details of the first book aren’t as fresh in my head as they are in hers. “What about Amy Brown, the guildswoman?” I asked.

My daughter nodded. “Yeah, I was hoping that she would be different, but then you ruined it by having them kiss!”

Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about that. “Well… okay… but…”

“And where are the feels, Dad? The book has no feels!”

Feels? The book’s got feels!” I protest.

“No it doesn’t” said my wife, which caught me off guard.

“I thought you loved my book.”

“I do. But you’re daughter’s right. It’s got no feels.”

At this point I felt a bit out of my depth. “Well… I set out to write a vary manly book…” I heard myself saying. “It’s a manly book… for manly men!”

They both looked at me like I was some sort of special mental case. I felt a bit like one.

“Well…” I sputtered. “The sequel will be better.”

“Dad,” my daughter said. “You know you wouldn’t get this kind of honest criticism from someone who didn’t love you, right?”

It was true. I had received a negative review… honestly, the worst review the book has garnered so far, from the two people whose opinions I value the most… and yet, I never felt so loved.

Family is funny that way.

Whatever your faith, however you choose to celebrate (or even if you don’t), I hope you all have a good holiday season and that it is filled with warmth and love.

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Okay. This is a bit of an experiment and, for me, a scary one. I am going to be posting my first draft novella THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION in parts to this blog. The scary part is that I am only halfway finished writing the thing.

So I am going to be posting one part every week and hopefully by the time I get to where I left off I will have written more to post. And if I run out of material, well then I’m just going to have to write by the seat of my pants and hope that it all makes sense in the end.

The final version will eventually be available as an e-novella from Rage Machine books. That version will be different from the one posted here on the blog (better written, more coherent one would hope).

So, why am I doing this? Partly to get myself motivated to finish the thing. I could give myself a deadline but I am usually far to forgiving with myself when it comes to those. Involving the readers of this blog seemed like a better way to go about it. I’m also hoping to get some feedback.

Also, since this is a prequel to my novel THE MASK OF ETERNITY, I am hoping to gain some cross promotion and generate some interest.

So, here it is, part one of THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION:

1. URWALD

“DeLacey! What in the name of the Eternal Void do you think you’re doing?”

Solis DeLacey started when the Lieutenant’s voice shouted into her earphone. She looked up and saw the shuttle coming through the bay doors, headed right towards her and knew that she had just made the biggest and the last mistake of her life.

She’d pulled a zero-g rotation in the shuttle bay. She’d been assigned to one of the Empress Jade’s maintenance shifts and had spent the morning harnessed to the wall of the docking bay, moving from station to station, checking readouts and effecting minor repairs when necessary.

That was when her harness became tangled. She unhooked herself from the guide ring and hadn’t hooked a second one beforehand — standard procedure. While she was busy trying to untangle her harness she had floated into one of the shuttle laneways.

Now the Lieutenant, a JG whose name she didn’t know, but who everyone just called “Black Pete” was shouting into the earphone of her helmet, and death in the form of an 82,000 pound shuttle was hurtling towards her and there was nothing that could stop it.

She felt the collision sooner than she expected it hit her in the side, knocking the wind out of her. Suddenly she was hurtling out of control. The hanger bay was tumbling around her and she lost all sense of up, down, backwards and forwards. She spun around and saw a splash of red, then something covered her faceplate and she couldn’t see.

She felt hands grabbing at her, it seemed from every which way. There was a confusing cacophony of voices in her headphones — shouted crosstalk that sounded like gibberish in her ears. She heard Black Pete shout “Oh, Dear God, No! NO!” but the rest was an indecipherable jumble.

The hands were slowing her spinning. She had closed her eyes to prevent vertigo but opened them now and everything was red. She tried to wipe away what was covering her faceplate but a hand grabbed at her arm, stopping her. A small part of her faceplate was clear and she could see a helmeted face in front of her. The face’s mouth was working but she could not hear what it was saying. It must have been speaking into a different frequency.

Then she was turned around. She got a brief glance at her arms and legs. She seemed intact, but there was something red all over her suit. She looked up and saw little red globules floating all over the hanger deck. She caught sight of a wall that was streaked with red and realized that it was blood.

She felt a hot panic burning in her head. Was she injured? She didn’t feel injured, she felt fine. Then what…?

Suddenly she could hear Black Pete’s voice in her earphone “Get her out of here! Get that stupid bitch out of my hanger deck!”

The hands pulled her along and that was when she saw the crushed atmosphere suit floating amongst the red globules, The suit was torn open and inside she could see more red — a deeper, darker red — almost black.

That was when a black fog seemed to swallow her up.

***

She woke up in the infirmary. She had a brace on her neck. She blinked her eyes open and Bruno Varagas was by her bedside. “You really screwed up this time, Kid,” Bruno said. Bruno was her shift leader. He was handsome and affable and had taken Solis under his wing right from her first day aboard the Empress.

“What happened? she tried to ask. Her neck hurt like hell and her throat felt closed up and dry.

Bruno got a cup of water from a spigot and she drank gratefully. “You didn’t put on a secondary hook,” Bruno said. “How many times have I had to remind you about that?”

The accident came back to her then and the sight of the suit leaking dark blood. “Who was it who… who…” she couldn’t finish.

“Her name was Hannah Callin.”

“Callin? Oh, God…” Lord Admiral Callin was the father of the Terran Fleet, His family had built Earth’s space navy from the early days of contact and expansion. If your last name was Callin you were destined for greatness in whatever field you chose.

“Yeah. She was one of Lord Admiral Callin’s nieces. She was an exemplary cadet with a near perfect record. Needless to say no one is very happy at the moment.”

Solis felt tears welling up behind her lids. “Why didn’t she just let me pay or my own mistake…?”

Bruno shook his head. “I don’t know. Personally I think the Callins are wound too tight. That, and they think they’re invincible.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She reached up to wipe them away but her IV wouldn’t let her. “So what happens to me? Do I get bounced?”

“Well… not exactly.” Bruno pulled out a clip-pad. “They wanted to bust you back dirtside but we got a communique from a Kyann ship that needs some extra help. I managed to get your name on that list.”

“A Kyann ship?” Kyann and Terra were equal partners in the Commonwealth but they generally kept their fleets separate. “At least it’ still in the Commonwealth. I guess it’s better than being transferred to the Orion Hegemony.”

“Don’t laugh. There were some who talked about selling you as a slave to a Kruath ore freighter. They might have done it as well except Kruath has broken off diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth… again. You know how the Kruath feel about Terrans.” he said. Solis nodded. The Kruath hated Terrans with a particular vehemence.

“I argued for the Kyan because right now it’s your best chance to stay in the Void. Unless you want your sorry ass dragging in the dirt?”

Solis tried to smile. “Thank you, Bruno.”

“Don’t thank me. There’s little chance you’ll ever serve on a Terran ship again and you likely won’t be back to the Empress. Kyann ships emphasize discipline and there’s rumors that Kyannum officers still tear out subordinate’s throats to enforce it.”

***

The Kyann vessel Kr’kt’kt pulled alongside the Empress Jade. Solis was still wearing the brace on her neck, her unruly curls were still wet from the shower. She’d gone from the infirmary to her quarters to shower, change, pack a duffel and then rush to the airlock.

There was a small group of cadets and a few officers who were waiting for the airlock to cycle through. She stopped in the entrance. One of the cadets, a thin-faced young man with a sneer, turned and looked at her. “Hey look,” he said. “It’s a giraffe!”

Solis felt her cheeks go hot. She was certain that her face had turned scarlet as every eye turned to stare at her. At 6 foot two inches she had always towered over her fellow cadets and she took the occasional good natured comment, but this was nasty.

“Belay that, Hathan,” one of the officers, an older, balding man, scowled.

The airlock cycled open then and the group turned and began entering single file. Solis took up the rear. They filed out the Empress Jade’s airlock, through the interstice and into the Kr’tk’tk’s airlock. They bundled in and the airlock closed behind Solis. Then the room began to spin. It felt like the entire airlock were moving under her feet.

Solis had heard about the Kyann airlock designs. Instead of extending outwards like the airlocks on Terran ships, the Kyann had a swivel structure. That meant that the rear door now became the front.

The airlock stopped moving and locked in place, and the airlock hatch that had been behind her, but was now in front of Solis, began to cycle open.

Solis looked up… and up. The Kyann that stood in the open hatchway was a good foot taller than her and she was the tallest of the group. He was lean and muscular and his body bristled with fur. He looked down at solis with unnaturally green eyes.

“Welcome aboard,” the Kyann rumbled.

To be continued…